Potty-training is one of the most divisive subjects in the battlefield of motherhood. No matter where you turn, someone is going to offer unsolicited advice about how and when you should potty-train you toddler. During my daughter's toddlerhood, I heard every extreme on the subject. "My son was potty-trained at 14 months. I spanked him if he had an accident," said one mom. Another told me that she sees no reason to pressure her 4-year-old into potty-learning, and that she figures the child will do it "when she's ready."
The subject of how to handle accidents is sure to come up when you begin the tireless adventure of potty-training your child. While I don't have the answers for every mom, these are the tips that worked best for us to handle potty accidents.
1. Don't spank. While I know some moms who have proclaimed success using spankings to address potty accidents, I know many more who have seen complete failure with this technique. Spankings teach children to be afraid and embarrassed of accidents, and to associate a natural bodily function with punishment. From what I've seen, toddlers do best when they associate the potty with something positive, not when they view it as an escape from something physically painful. A swat on the butt will not cure a child of his inability to control his bladder or bowels. It will, however, cause him to feel very distressed about the entire process of maturing into the potty-using stage.
2. Don't humiliate your child. Potty accidents are embarrassing to both you and your child, especially if they occur in a public place. But there is no need to worsen an already-distressing situation if your toddler has an accident. Your toddler needs to know that you're on the same team, and that you don't purposefully seek to hurt or upset her. If she wets herself at the playground, the best thing you can do is discretely whisper, "Wow, this is embarrassing! Let's get you a change of clothes. I don't think anyone noticed."
3. Say you're upset. My toddler went a week with no potty-related accidents whatsoever, then had an accident in the children's library. Yikes! As we raced to the potty to clean up and change, I did provide support and comfort -- but I also made it clear that I was upset. Point out the obvious so that your child understands how these accidents affect you. "I'm really upset. This is very embarrassing and I'd been excited about how well you were doing with the potty," gets the message across appropriately. Your toddler doesn't need to be humiliated or shamed, but she does need to know that potty accidents inconvenience you.
4. Offer a reminder. Every single time your toddler has an accident, make a point of reminding him of how and when to use the potty. Tell him to alert you when he feels like he needs to use the potty, and remind him that it's not a good idea to "hold it" longer than necessary. Make sure your toddler knows that he can ask you to go to the potty any time and any place, even if it is inconvenient. An inconvenient trip to the bathroom is far easier than a messy accident in a public place!
5. Address the accident promptly. I have heard many parents recommend that parents allow their potty-training toddlers to wear soiled or wet clothes for an extended period of time, to teach the toddler a lesson. I do not view this as a viable option for handling potty accidents. Most toddlers who are developmentally ready to potty-train can remove their own wet or soiled clothes. If they can't, they may face a painful or even dangerous rash due to the bacteria and ammonia against their skin. Don't force this on your child unnecessarily; it isn't likely to have a positive outcome. Instead, deal with the accident quickly so that your toddler understands that an accident has occurred and that it needs to be addressed.